St. Mark's United Methodist Church
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors
FINANCIAL PLANS AND CONSTRUCTION
Financing and construction go hand-in-hand: there must be enough money to pay for the building. Money. Something the church was definitely short on. On July 21, 1938, Mr. Bailey submitted to the steering committee bids from various contractors-bids considerably higher than first anticipated. The names of the contractors nor the amounts of the bids were recorded in any minutes. After discussion it was the consensus of opinion that alternate bids should be obtained on numerous items, including building the Sanctuary at a later time.
It was hoped the financial campaign for $100,000 would be subscribed and would be payable over three years. However, only a little more than $76,000 was pledged, leaving a $24,000 deficit.
The steering committee realized a loan would be necessary to round out the commitment. Mr. Raymond P. Elledge, chairman of the Board of City Missions and Church Extension in addition to being a lawyer with a savings and loan association, was engaged to secure a loan.
At the August 15, 1938, meeting Mr. Elledge reported he had contacted various lending institutions with the most favorable consideration coming from Mr. Dwyer at Rice Institute. Mr. Dwyer indicated Rice would be willing to make a loan of $30,000 at 5% interest. This amount was much lower than what was needed to construct the entire building. Since there was a lack of ready cash and a reduced loan commitment "made a rearrangement of the building plans necessary so the building would be constructed in units, preferably the educational building first and afterward the church auditorium." The minutes further reflect that "Mr. Elledge be authorized to put to Rice Institute the proposition of a $45,000 loan, or in the alternative, they would give us a commitment of $30,000 immediately to start construction of the educational building, and when, either during or after construction of the first unit (the educational building), it becomes apparent that the entire project can be completed, then that they give us an additional commitment for the amount required for the further construction."
St. Mark's original floor plans
At the August 25,1938, meeting Mr. Elledge gave a report "that Rice Institute will make a loan of $50,000 at the rate of 5% per annum.'' This loan would still not be enough to build the church and pay for fixtures when they are installed.
Rice Institute would not advance any money until the building is completed so an arrangement was made with the Houston National Bank concerning temporary financing: "They would make a commitment of $35,000 provided the church is possessed of $28,000 in cash at the time work commences. This would require an additional $10,000 to the sum now on hand."
Rev. Landrum stated there was a loan for that amount available for 90 days at 6% interest. The question of raising the $10,000 in 90 days was actively discussed.
Authorization to sign a contract with Gulf Coast Construction Company, Inc. is given in the September 22, 1938, minutes. The contract, for the construction of the educational building and foundation for the church auditorium, also came with an alternate bid to complete the sanctuary.
But then at the September 28, 1938, meeting Mr. Walton stated, "Gulf Coast Construction Company proposes that instead of furnishing a corporate security bond that said company furnish a personal bond signed by Mr. Joseph F. Meyer, Jr., which bond would restrict Mr. Meyer's liability to 33 1/3 % of the total or approximately $26,000.'' After discussion the motion was made: "Before entering into a contact with Gulf Coast Construction Company on the present plan that is to pay $54,138 for the first unit that we require of Mr. Handley a corporate surety bond to cover completion of the first unit in the sum of $54,138 and that we further require a personal surety bond with his suggested surety, Mr. Joseph F. Meyer, Jr. , to cover completion of the second unit in which bond Mr. Meyer's liability may be limited to $10,000.'' It was necessary for Rice Institute to approve of this arrangement.
This is the first mention of the contract cost - $54,138 for the educational building and foundation for the sanctuary and $15,000 to complete the sanctuary.
Two days later, on September 30, 1918, Rev. Landrum read a letter from Rice Institute: "Wherein Rice Institute agreed to make to the church a loan of $35,000 for construction of the first unit - that is the educational bulling and the foundation for the church auditorium, and wherein they further commit themselves to make a further loan of $15,000 for construction of the second unit - that is the chapel or church auditorium, upon certain contingencies."
Rev. Landrum gave a rather comprehensive explanation of the finances and building plan and then made the following motion which was seconded by Mr. Shively and subsequently carried: "we proceed to sign (direct to the trustees to sign) contracts with Gulf Coast Construction Company upon their furnishing a corporate surety bond satisfactory to Rice Institute in the sum of $54,138 on the first unit and personal surety bond signed by Mr. Meyer's liability will be limited to $10,000.''
The contract was signed according to instructions, bonds were executed and work on the much anticipated building was to begin.
The Houston Press gave publicity to the groundbreaking on September 5, 1938.
One item remained to be resolved in order to complete the sanctuary - another $10,000 in cash! The congregations had pledged well beyond their means in many cases, but everyone wanted the building completed. By true sacrificial giving, $7,000 in cash was scraped together to be paid by December 15, 1938, but $3,000 was still needed. No mention of how this amount was secured, but it is known a note was involved. The minutes of March 17, 1939, state: "Mr. O'Banion Williams made a report on the note for about $3,000 which fifty or more persons, members of the official boards of Norhill and Woodland Methodist Churches and other members of the churches, had signed assumed responsibility for, the report being somewhat as follows - that at 3 o'clock on the day the note was due every signer except two had paid and that by 8 o'clock the next morning checks were received from those other two."
From the Houston Press, September 5, 1938:
On December 18, 1938, Rev. Landrum reported – “that Rice Institute had approved an additional loan which had been sought with which to complete the church building and that we were in position to write the Gulf Coast Construction Company to go ahead with the entire plant." This made the total commitment from Rice Institute $50,000. The letter to Gulf Coast was written December 27, 1938.
From The Houston Press, September 5, 1938
But trouble lay ahead. The attorney for the construction company advised the church on December 30, 1938 - "that construction had ceased by reason of act of public authority." A letter from American Indemnity Company dated January 12, 1939, stated - "construction has been resumed by Gulf Coast Construction Co. and every effort is being made at the present time to carry same through to completion as per terms of contract.''
Many problems arose during the spring and summer of 1939, mainly poor workmanship coupled with material unavailability which slowed progress. Mr. Handley was indifferent and failed to cooperate on several occasions. Finally, at the October 23, 1939, meeting it was reported - "at a meeting of the officers of the Gulf Coast construction Co. , Mr. Joseph F. Meyer, Jr. , was elected president of the company, succeeding J.B. Handley and that the building will be completed under the supervision of Eric C. Nelson.'' (It should be remembered Mr. Meyer had furnished a bond for the completion of the building.)
Mr. Jim D. Mason, a member of the church, represented the steering committee and congregation in much of the construction work. There is mention in the minutes of the purchase of many additional items, some that were not covered in the general contract - heating equipment, light fixtures, pews, chancel, carpet, a pipe organ and many smaller, miscellaneous items.
Editor's note: during a luncheon in 1989 to plan a school reunion, Raymond Moers happened to mention his work in compiling the history of St. Mark's. One of the three men he was meeting with, Mr. Aubrey Calvin, stated he was familiar with the construction of the building(s) and gave the following account:
"In the fall of 1938, or early in 1939, the plans and specifications on the church were placed for bids. Mr. Jim Handley of the Gulf Coast Construction Company was the low bidder. The church did not have enough money and negotiated with Mr. Handley to build the Sunday School building first, with the option that if they could raise the additional funds in several months, he would be awarded the contract for the sanctuary for the difference. . He had loaded the first part of the contract with his entire profit and the sanctuary was his undoing.
"At that time, I was branch manager of the Houston office of the American Indemnity Company and executed both bonds with the Indemnity Agreement of the late Mr. Joseph F. Meyer, Jr. The contracts were completed and delivered in a timely manner with no liens. Mr. Meyer made up the loss.
"The war was about to come on with considerable construction and over several years Mr. Handley was successful in his contracting business and paid Mr. Meyer in full as well as all of his other creditors."
At the dedication of St. Mark's Heritage Room in 1975, Mr. O'Banion Williams, a leader in unification and all facets of the construction activities, gave an interesting talk on the work of merging, the financial campaign, and the subsequent building program.
THE BUILDING OF A DREAM: "IN THE BEGINNING, WE''
Mr. O'Banion Williams
Reminiscences of O'Banion Williams at the Dedication of the Heritage Room of St. Mark's United Methodist Church in its Centennial celebration, Sunday, June 1, 1975:
Mrs. Frances Black Moers, Chairman of the Historical Committee, and her family have been friends of ours since she and her sisters were teenagers; in fact, my wife, Amy, had been a student in Professor Black's school many years before that.
Brother Frank, Mrs. Richardson, and Mr. and Mrs. Moers came to my home some time ago and asked if I would make a talk at this occasion covering the uniting of the two churches and the building of the present church. Mrs. Moers and her committee have made a thorough study of the historical records available concerning this subject. They have a great amount of information available in binders making it easy to read and follow. I urge everyone who is interested in the matter to read this material because it is interesting and enlightening. In my remarks much of this material will not be touched upon because of the short time allotted for my talk.
The time period referred to began in late 1937 and ran through early 1940. The Norhill MethodistChurch was a member of the Northern Conference and Woodland Methodist was a member of the Southern Conference. For a number of years, the two General Conferences had carried on discussions that would lead to a union of the two bodies. It was felt that they would reunite at the next meeting of the two general Conferences which would come within the next two or three years. The union of the two local churches, Norhill, in the 1100 block of East Eleventh Street, and Woodland, on Houston Avenue near Bayland (a distance of about one and one quarter miles) was an economic and cultural necessity. Reverend D.L. Landrum, young, ambitious, ingenious and a good leader, was pastor of Woodland and had been for a year or two. Revered A. A. Leifeste, a much older, more settled and conservative man and deeply loved by everyone was pastor of Norhill.
Mr. O'Banion Williams, the principal speaker
I don't remember, if I ever knew, how talk of union between the two ministers began, but after they had discussed the matter with their respective district superintendents and bishops, they talked with leaders of their churches. The bishops approved, subject to approval of their respective Annual Conferences. The two boards and congregations were then fully informed and enthusiasm for the merger spread like wild fire among members of both groups.
The ministers continued to carry on the necessary political discussions among Methodist ministers through the Ministerial Alliance in order to get approval of the Conferences. By early spring of 1938 or soon thereafter, a committee of representatives from both churches were holding preliminary discussions relative to the election of a joint official board and a fund raising campaign for building a new church on lots which had been purchased by Woodland in the 1920's and had been paid for. A building would have already been built had it not been delayed by the Great Depression.
The annual conferences approved the union and a joint official board was elected to serve the new congregation. I remember very well that Mr. Walter Vater, a highly-respected young man in his middle thirties, very conservative, and a man having superior knowledge of human nature was elected Chairman. We were fortunate in that he knew whom to appoint to committees, that he had the capability and tact to follow up and work with the committees, and that he worked well with the two ministers. He was from the Norhill congregation.
Soon thereafter, a building budget was developed and a fundraising committee was appointed to put on a campaign to raise $100,000. The Norhill and Woodland church properties were to be sold and those funds would be added to the funds raised. A building committee was also appointed to select an architect and to have plans prepared for an educational building. It was felt at that time that it would be too great an undertaking to attempt to build both the sanctuary and educational building at one time. Both committees immediately began work under the direction of the board and leadership of the two ministers. A professional fund raiser was located and retained; I believe the name was Olson and Associates.
Here we should pause and discuss for a moment the economic condition of the country at that time. There are many in this audience who were not then old enough to understand the impact of the Great Depression. The worst had passed but its effect was sill nagging the economy. The city was meeting its expenses for payrolls and other purposes by borrowing from the banks from one tax paying period to the next. Policemen were paid about $90 per month for long hours with no overtime pay; employees of the supermarkets (and they were practically all men) were working from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM, Monday through Friday, and from 7:00 AM to 10:00 PM on Saturdays for about $18 per week. One of Houston's largest industries (manufacturing oil field tools) was paying their men $25 per week for five and one-half ten- hour days. The State of Texas was paying its people from the general fund with anticipation warrants or vouchers which was a glorified name for hot checks. These warrants covered low salaries, and in order for the employees to get their money, they had to either wait for from six to fourteen months for the checks to be made good or had to go to a bank. The bank would figure interest on that amount of money for the waiting time and deduct it from the check. The federal government's budget at that time had risen from about seven billion dollars in 1934 to about nine billion. There was little or no public and, therefore, no on very little interest. Think for a moment what the budget of the government is now - beginning a new fiscal year July 1, 1975 - about 365 billion dollars; a public debt of about 495 billion requiring about 35 billion in annual interest. There was a compensating bright side to the picture to a certain extent- the cost of living was low. The milk man would leave a quart of milk in a returnable glass bottle on the back porch for 10 cents; a dozen eggs could be bought for 10 cents; and a pound package of first-grade, sliced bacon cost 20 cents. In the restaurants, a T-bone steak with French fries, salad and drink for 60 cents was common; a fine dinner of prime rib with all the trimmings in a downtown restaurant could be purchased for $1.25. So, you see, it was not all gloom.
We went into the three weeks whirlwind campaign to raise funds with a lot of enthusiasm. Everyone worked - men, women and even children running errands or helping out. We were organized into divisions, companies, platoons, squads, etc. with appropriate leaders as generals, captains, sergeants and so on. People worked and contributed as I have never seen before nor after. Everyone, it seemed, felt that they had a personal obligation to make the effort a success - that there was an unspoken undertone among both Norhill and Woodland people that we must do our part. We didn't want to be slackers in our responsibilities. Both Brother Leifeste and Brother Landrum did a marvelous job in leadership at the time and, of course, thereafter.
When the campaign closed, we had a great feeling of success. After totaling up our pledges and counting the cash that had been paid it looked good; and then came the shocker! Our contract with the fund raiser was a percentage basis to come off the top. We received his bill and it took just about all the cash we had raised to pay him. We took courage from the fact that the balance of the pledges would be clear and free from other expenses. People religiously made payments on their pledges. It will be of interest to you to know that as a general rule only about ninety percent of pledges are collected. From our pledges, we collected more than 110 percent! Many people increased theirs as time went along and of course, we continued to get a few new pledges although we lost a few because of death and moving away.
While these events were taking place, we were actively trying to sell the two church properties. Real estate of all kinds was selling awfully slow at that time. We were just coming out of the Great Depression and war clouds were hanging heavy over Europe. We did get a nibble on the sale of the WoodlandChurch; it was from an undertaker. Some of us had a deep sinking feeling about selling it to an undertaker but were quickly relieved because the sale fell through. We then found another church that wanted the property and that sale went through - at a lower price than we were asking. When the title was examined in preparation for the deed, it was discovered that there was a reversionary clause that required refunding a large part of the proceeds to the Mission board of the General Conference. This was a great shock, as it, with the lower sales price than hoped, for, reduced the amount we secured. The Mission Board of the local district did later help us a little. A buyer was later found for the Norhill Church, at a much lower price than we had hoped to get and, there were several problems, as I remember, to be resolved - each of which reduced the final net amount that we received.
In due time, plans were completed on the educational building. By this time, the board had decided to ask for alternate bids to include building the sanctuary. This delayed for a short time letting the plans out for bid. While alternate bids were taken, it was felt that the chances of building the sanctuary was very remote; we simply just did not have the funds available. Rice Institute had given us a commitment for a loan but furnishings had to be provided over and above construction costs. Plans were subsequently submitted to contractors. If my memory is right, there were nine bids; and as is frequently the case, the lowest bidder was the weakest financially. The board decided to award the contract to the low bidder provided they could furnish the necessary construction bond. The bidder was unable to furnish that amount of bond, but after talking to his banker, the banker agreed to furnish a personal indemnity bond to the Church. Rice Institute agreed and so the contact was awarded.
Construction on the educational building went smoothly enough and we were nearing the date at which time the Church had to exercise its right to have the sanctuary built under provisions of the alternate bid or forego the price we had. By that time, it was obvious that the price on the sanctuary was very low. The time left was only a few days for the church to take advantage of the alternate bid. The church had no more funds but everyone felt that we just had to have the sanctuary.
Costs were advancing rapidly at that time; if we didn't build it now, it would be several years before we could build it. The ministers talked with Walter Vater and the chairman of the building committee and the chairman of the finance committee. All agreed that every effort must be made to get approval of the board and to raise the necessary $10,000 in cash in order to exercise the option to build the sanctuary.
A meeting of tile board was called for the earliest possible date. Lloyd McReynolds was on the finance committee and he and I discussed the possibilities of raising that amount of money after all the blood had already been squeezed out of the beets. We decided to go to one of the downtown banks that had recently moved from the outlying area thinking that they might be interested in contacts with a large number of possible new customers; neither of us did business with this bank. We explained the situation and they agreed to let us have the money, if we would personally guarantee payment. I knew Lloyd was good for it; possibly he felt the same way about me. Here we did a little "Watergating.” We got the bank to prepare a note with places for fifty signatures. I suppose it must have been for ninety days, as that was about as long as banks made loans in those days. It was felt that we could get commitments from members of the board, as the time was too short to go beyond the board for a total of that amount payable within that time.
We all finally got to the meeting about eight o'clock in the evening. Walter called the meeting to order with the usual prayer. He turned the meeting over to me after saying that everyone knew what we were there for; this being a unique emergency procedure, it was difficult to get started. Someone suggested that we begin by going down the line, beginning with the first one to my left in the front pew. This was my first and last experience in applying this type of personal squeeze, but everyone present wanted success and was prepared to make it so.
Someone was asked to server as clerk and as the names were called out and the pledge made, the name and amount was recorded. Everyone pledged - as I recall, forty were present with two absent from the city. I pledged for John Bond, a long-time friend, without his authority, and someone else pledged for the other, without authority. Incidentally, when we pledged for the absent persons, we knew very well that if he did not pay we would have to. We tallied up and had only about one fourth of what we needed. Someone suggested| that we close the door and not let anyone leave the room and then make another round in an effort to get the required $ 10,000. We started all over; most just about doubled their previous pledge. Remember now, these pledges were for cash within thirty days. We had, after the second round, about half of the required amount. Someone then said, "Let's go to the bank, I believe we can borrow the money if we will all sign the note." This was the time to bring our "Watergating" out into the open. We told the board that we had known it would be difficult to get that amount of money after the contributions we had already made and so had already gone to the bank and gotten just such a commitment for the ten thousand dollars to be paid over ninety days in the event we found we needed it. We pulled the bank note out with places for fifty signatures.
We all agreed to just about double the amount we had put down on the second go around; this left some small amount for a few of us to add to our pledges in order to round out the amount required. Everyone present signed the note with the amount of his pledge opposite his name which was all he was liable for. I remember very well signing the note for my long-time friend John Bond, in the amount of $150. When he came back home at the encl of the week, and I told him, you can imagine what he told me about how he was not going to pay it, etc., etc. He had a lot of fun sweating me for a few weeks, although I knew all along he would take care of it.
The meeting ended at 1:00 AM. We took the note to the bank and the head of the bank looked at the note with all those names and he made the remark that "they will never pay it. '' We made arrangements, for the convenience of the signers, to make their payments to the church office. When the note came due the forty signers had paid in full; the other two paid theirs the next day I have never in my life seen of heard of such sincere, loyal, and sacrificial giving on the part of any body of people. There was never a complaint brought to my attention because of pledges made by a husband. There were a few instances reported where the wife told her husband| that she thought they might be able to pay a little more.
The contract was awarded for the construction of the sanctuary under the provisions of the alternate bid. The contractor extended his construction into that area; and soon began slowing down and costs began accelerating because of slow production. He reached the point where he could not meet his obligations. At first, the bonding company came in and exhausted its responsibility; then the banker had to enter the picture; the architect became disgusted and was about to quit the job. We went to him and pointed out to him his obligation to the church and what it would mean to his reputation if he walked out on us. He then reconsidered and again took over at which time he and the contractor got crossed| up; as I recall, the contractor quit the job, but the banker furnished the money, and the superintendent of the construction company, with the overall supervision| of Mr. Jim Mason, representing the church, finished the job after much delay. The furnishings of the church is another story; but we did get into the sanctuary the early part of 1940 with Bishop A. Frank Smith preaching the first sermon. I am sorry to have used so much of your time. Thank you.
Laying of Cornerstone Program
The laying of St. Mark's cornerstone took place on Sunday afternoon, August 10, 1939, at 6 P.m. with Bishop A. Frank Smith presiding. Those participating in the service were Dr. H. M. Baling, Jr., Dr. C. P. Zenor, Dr. B. H. Fleming, Rev. Stewart Clendenin, Rev. D. L. Landrum, Rev. A. A. Leifeste, C.A. Neal Pickett, district lay leader, and Raymond P. Elledge, chairman of the Methodist Board of Missions and Church Extension, who brought greetings from Houston Methodism. W.R. Shriner, Jr., Mrs. Lillian Froehner Martin and Nancy Mason were among those who placed mementoes in a copper receptacle in the cornerstone. However, there is no record of exactly what the items were and no one seems to remember either. Bishop Smith placed the trowel of mortar on the cornerstone sealing it with this injunction to those present : “As the sun goes down on this peaceful scene, only to be rising on the scenes of carnage on the other side of the globe , pledge yourselves to brotherhood in the name of the Prince of Peace.''
Many thanks should go to the men on this steering committee who gave many hours of their time to the building of our beautiful building. It was indeed a labor of love on their part and we, after 50 years, have the benefit of their endeavor. There were many frustrating situations but none so insurmountable to a people with a mission of grace and unity. We again thank them for their resolve and perseverance.
And what was happening in the world during the time the church was endeavoring to build a building? Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of Great Britain, made his historic trip to Germany for his meeting with Hitler and the supposed agreement for "Peace in our time." On a lighter note, Douglas Corrigan, who took off from New York City on a flight to California and unfortunately landed in Ireland only to become dubiously known as "Wrong-way Corrigan,'' was welcomed back to Galveston, his hometown, on August 26, 1938. Other noteworthy events included the dedication of The Rice University Stadium on September 22, 1938, and the laying of the new City Hall cornerstone by R.H. Fonville, mayor at that time.